Roger Egan: RedMart's Untold Origin Story (Almost Missing Payroll 4 Times), Sacrifices vs. Black Hole, & Constructionist Child Learning Startup - E254

· Founder,Start-up,USA,Podcast Episodes English

“The Constructionist Learning Theory is about learning by doing and experiencing things. It's self-directed so that you learn in the context of something you're motivated to learn about. You can apply those skills as needed, as opposed to instructionism, where there's an authoritative figure who has all the knowledge that they impart to the student, which you see as a vessel to fill up with a lot of materials. They measure learning through a test which is not the best way to measure learning and determine how successful someone’s going to be.” - Roger Egan

“Technological change is only going to accelerate. We’re seeing a huge acceleration in AI which will make human skills uniquely valuable in the future. Adapting is going to be much more important and there is learning that you have to do alone. I would teach kids how to use AI as a tool, ask it the right questions, learn from it, and apply it in building a second brain. They should learn how to leverage this tool than ban it.” - Roger Egan

Roger Egan is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor. He is the Cofounder & CEO of Nurture, a pre-launch EdTech / Media startup that enables children to co-learn with their parents via fun, bonding activities. Prior to Nurture, Roger was Cofounder and CEO of RedMart, the largest online grocery in Singapore. Roger has an MBA in Entrepreneurship from INSEAD Business School and a BA in Economics from The University of Pennsylvania.

1. Roger shares the untold origin story of RedMart, Singapore’s largest online grocer. He met his cofounder at INSEAD thanks to a dinner party hosted by their spouses. They faced many doubters who believed that Singapore was too saturated for online grocery shopping. They did everything by themselves, including picking, packing and deliveries from their small apartments. His whole family had to help out and they ended up working across weekends and evenings. Despite the tough times, they kept the faith and persevered until RedMart started growing quickly and gained the trust of their initial doubters.

2. He shares the struggles of being a growth-stage founder in 2010 before the emergence of the professional venture capital ecosystem in Singapore and Southeast Asia. They almost missed payroll four times. He shares about the “black hole” that he was in and the sacrifices that were made. He also discusses about his lucky break getting capital from the co-founder of Skype and how they were eventually acquired by Alibaba.

3. After a year leading regional expansion of online supermarkets, Roger took a one year sabbatical to focus on his family. This led him to found Nurture, a companion app that supports parents in teaching their kids important life skills. Nurture is based on Constructionist learning theory, which aims to create lifelong, autonomous, self-directed learners who can learn how to learn.

Read, listen or watch the full insight including product-market fit localization, the transformational experience of becoming a dad and teaching children about AI at

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Jeremy Au: (02:20)

Hey Roger, really excited to have you in the show. I have to say that I am a big, big user of your company, RedMart, which you founded and is such a lifesaver and convenient and of course to so many other folks across the region as well. It must be that app that makes total sense. So on that note, I'd love for you to introduce yourself.


Roger Egan: (02:42)

Hey, Jeremy. Great to be here. Thanks for having me. So my story begins in the US. I'm American. I went to school at the University of Pennsylvania and followed the herd into investment banking. Didn't enjoy it very much. So quit early and got into entrepreneurship pretty early in my career, starting with organizing events in New York City. Some failures, some moderately successful startups, small ones where I learned a lot, and just fast forward I went to explore international life and moved to Madrid from my own real job. I worked for a family office managing their alternative asset portfolio, and really enjoyed it, but got the entrepreneurial itch and wanted to start a new company.

So I joined my father in 2005 to start a company called Integro Insurance Brokers. This is the largest VC deal in 2005. We raised 320 million and launched a property-casualty and management risk insurance broker for Fortune 1000 companies, and we had about 12 offices across US, Canada, and Europe. Fast forward, I enjoyed doing that. It wasn't my industry but I learned a lot and that was sold to a private equity company. Not as big an outcome as we wanted, but still a great learning experience. I then actually had great timing. Quit my job there, and wanted to start an e-commerce company in the US in 2008.

I resigned in October. And one week later, Lehman Brothers collapsed and the financial crisis ensued. So, not great timing, and there was no funding for anything. So I kind of, just thought I would wait it out and go to business school and get over to Asia where there was growth and opportunity.


Jeremy Au: (04:26)

So, you've been an entrepreneur multiple times now three times, but we've gotta go back to the beginning, what was, the impetus between your first, venture, right? You said that you built that with your family. So what was kind of like, were you always an entrepreneur or was it something that you just joined along with? How did that happen?


Roger Egan: (04:44)

Yeah. My first taste of entrepreneurship was actually throwing New Year's Eve parties in New York City. I had the problem that my classmates spread across the US. It was hard to get together. This was the one time of year when everyone was home and, I wanted to see everyone but New York City bars are crowded and expensive.

So I decided to rent a loft and hold a big party and made more money in one night than my investment banking salary and bonus combined. So it's sort of like, wow, entrepreneurship's easy and was successful right off the bat. And then I learned the hard way on many other ventures, but that's not the case. And I just got a bit lucky. But once I got a taste of it, I just loved the excitement. I loved the learning. I think there's no steeper learning curve and I was hooked. So that's what really, made me never go back from entrepreneurship after that.


Jeremy Au: (05:37)

Amazing. And from your first venture, you said, you're building a brokerage and going about raising money, and then you learned a lot from that. So could you share a little bit more about what you learned from your first company?


Roger Egan: (05:50)

Yeah, so a couple of learnings. So we had raised a lot of money to acquire two companies as a platform to build on and then actually it was a kind of a strategic disagreement with our board, my father and I with some of the other investors and founders, to go organic and not buy those two companies and that was a lot of money to have in your back pocket as a startup. I think what I learned from that is it's actually a curse to have too much money, you aren't as conscious of your spending and, you can overextend pretty quickly. I think that was a big lesson from that, that stayed with me, throughout and was very helpful when fundraising was more difficult in the RedMart years.


Jeremy Au: (06:35)

You took all these learnings and then you said to yourself, okay, I want to do an inter MBA, which makes sense, as a transition time, and yet you still had an entrepreneurial bug in you, right? Because a lot of folks, after they do one company and they're like, wow, that was alright. And then they're like, okay, you know what? Maybe being an executive is pretty cool, right? Or maybe I'll join in investing as well. So why did you keep on going?


Roger Egan: (06:59)

Yeah. So I, think I love the challenge of it. I really, maybe I'm not really that employable. I love to build things from scratch. I love to set the culture of the company from scratch and build someplace where it detracts the best talent and retains it. And people have a lot of fun with what they're doing.

So yeah, I think for me it wasn't, I know I get that it's hard and not for everyone and it's very stressful and that's where all the grey hair comes from but for me, it's just not a choice. It's just I love it and I can't really work in a normal job.


Jeremy Au: (07:36)

And what's interesting is that you joined INSEAD MBA and I think INSEAD MBA is known like other MBA programs to generate a lot of consultants and investment bankers and, kind of like, steady professions. What was it like to be, kind of go in and kind of feel like you had an entrepreneurial bug in you? How did that feel versus the rest of the other students who must have been like going out, getting drinks, and talking to other people?


Roger Egan: (07:59)

Yeah, well actually I think INSEAD doesn't have as much notoriety for their entrepreneurs but have quite a few unicorns in there and a lot of successful founders. So, usually, Stanford and Harvard where you went, get more press on that, but there's quite a few founders, so I did find myself among a considerable group of entrepreneurs at INSEAD, but yeah, to your point about what you're trying to get out of the experience with, like I said, within the second month, we were onto this idea and I have this kind of tunnel vision when I get into something and my wife can tell you all about that but I cannot stop thinking about it and progressing towards it.

So I started to organize the MBA in ways that would help us finish the business plan for RedMart. So, in my marketing class, I was like, how can this result in the marketing part of my business plan? And it was a really great way to go through the MBA because I got more, much more out of it cause it was in the context of a business I wanted to start and I could apply the learnings to that plan.

And even had investors let me create courses on my own, sort of the regular offering, to just help me progress. And we had a few INSEAD professors invest in RedMart early on from those relationships that we built.


Jeremy Au: (09:20)

What was it like to land on the idea, right? Because as you said, it's intuitive today to get groceries at a click of a button. But eight years ago, that was a long time ago, right? And so what was it like landing on the idea? How did you generate the idea? Were there any obstacles? And, thinking that they're getting a good audience for it.


Roger Egan: (09:38)

Yeah, it was about 12 years ago. As I mentioned we were used to it in New York City and became fairly prevalent there. And I was just dumbfounded as to why such an advanced city like Singapore was about 15 years behind US and e-commerce. And a lot of people, including some professors, told me I'm absolutely crazy for thinking of this idea in Singapore. So some of the arguments were that Singapore's so convenient, it's a small place. There are grocery stores everywhere and people of helpers, why would anyone want their groceries delivered? And I said I don't buy that. Convenience is relative. New York City's even more convenient than Singapore.

There's a grocery store almost on every block or corner, and something's only convenient until something more convenient comes along, and that's not convenient anymore. So I didn't buy that. And FreshDirect built a 500-million business at that time in New York despite it being so convenient.

So I didn't buy that argument. Then people said, well, you're going up against multi-billion dollar companies and how are you going to beat them? And I said that one of them happens to be a government cooperative, which in Singapore is probably a good advantage. I said I don't buy that either, in the end, it's customers who choose where they're gonna shop, right? Not the big incumbents. So yeah, just it was having to go against the grain quite a bit. A lot of people didn't believe in it. It was hard for us to get those initial checks. We just believed that it can work, and didn't listen to them.


Jeremy Au: (11:11)

What was it like? I mean, that's a tricky part, right? Like everybody gets a lot of haters. Like I think every founder kind of gets that. So how did you know that you were right or that you had to change it? What kept you going was psychologically you were like, oh, everyone's wrong. Or like, how did you deal with that? Because so many founders kind of get all that, those detractors in the early days, right?


Roger Egan: (11:32)

Yeah, I guess I've had some experience where I took a risk and was sort of contrarian in my thinking and it paid off for me. So I had that track record, and some confidence built up from that. But I'd also say I've tried online grocery before and once you experience it and you said you're a costumer, you know that you can't really articulate it well.

As marketing, you just, and that's why we gave so many free trials because once you try it and all the heavy, bulky stuff is delivered to your door in the time window that you want, you don't have to go to the store and waste time with it. It just kind of becomes apparent. And I believed that Singaporeans would feel the same once they tried.


Jeremy Au: (12:12)

There's actually a big, trend obviously of like looking at other markets, right? For comparables and then localizing it to the market. So as you kind of like went through that product market fit, what were some areas of localization that you ended up thinking you had to do versus what you actually had to do? Yeah.


Roger Egan: (12:31)

Yeah. Well, one thing is that the market in Singapore is extremely price-sensitive. I would say, the Asian market in general and in the US a lot of, or even the UK with Ocado charge a decent premium for this type of service. So we knew right off the bat that wasn't gonna work if it is comparable and priced to the offline offering you just weren't gonna make it. And people weren't really ready to pay delivery fees. Which, in a very tough unit, economic business is a tough thing to get over and we needed a massive scale to make it work. But yeah, that was, price sensitivity was a very different part of the business in Asia.


Jeremy Au: (13:12)

And before we go onto some of the lessons that you learned along the way, how did you meet your co-founder, because you said, your wives were involved and so, so forth. I think everyone's always like, oh, how do we find a co-founder? What makes a good click? So what about it? Did you just mean in class or over drinks or it was like a double date?


Roger Egan: (13:30)

Yeah, we were both married in business school. Our wives had met on the internet in New York City actually before school even started. So they were kind of conversing on there and I think they threw a dinner party or something. The first time we met, we started talking about how we were both interested in starting something but didn't know what yet.

And that those were the initial discussions and it really helps to start to have that intense time together, to get to know each other while you're building out the plan. There couldn't be a better circumstance for that than business school. We have a lot of time and you go through classes together. And what we started to notice was that we had very complementary skill sets. So, I would say more of the creative vision, and idea guy and my partner, Vikram, is an extremely detail-oriented operator executor and we needed both rights to make it work. So it was pretty complimentary. We saw those strengths, we just filled each other's gaps very well.


Jeremy Au: (14:30)

Wow. Amazing. And as you started building out, in year one, year two, year three, what was that like, because you shared, right, it's operationally intensive, right? So, were you like, shipping stuff yourself or how did that work out? Can you share what your first delivery was like?


Roger Egan: (14:45)

Yeah, so back in 2010, there was no real venture ecosystem in Singapore, there were companies, which I won't name, but both said no and so we had to live, check to check, and it's a very capital intensive business. So our whole family literally had to do all of the deliveries ourselves. So after 10-hour day meeting with suppliers and doing marketing and all the normal business stuff, we would then pick and pack in our small warehouse.

Put it into our one truck and deliver it ourselves for months. And we did that to two in the morning or till, the last delivery was I think 10:00 PM and then we had to pick and pack for the next day. We would also be out of stock all the time cause we didn't have demand forecasting and all kinds of algorithms for purchasing and things that made that efficient. And then we would go around to the 24-hour cold storage and fair price and, buy products at face value, losing all the margin just to ensure that it was a perfect customer experience for every single customer. And we did that for months till two in the morning, every single day.

It was a grind. I remember going out to suppliers like, oh, I won't name the names, but they didn't trust us, so we had to take photographs of all the products. We said, oh, can we come to your warehouse and pick it up? They said, yeah, but you have to pay for it. Cause they didn't even trust us to take their products and give them back. So we like to pay for the products and get reimbursed when we photographed them all and gave them the photos. But that was sort of how it was in the beginning. When we were cataloguing pet food, my apartment was filled to the top with dog food and everything. My wife was extremely upset with me.

It smelled, and it attracted bugs, but we just had no money and we had to do everything ourselves. And the whole family helped out. And we have to say, I think Vikram would say the same. We're extremely grateful to have supportive wives who let us follow our entrepreneurial dream and go for this. They sacrificed quite a lot to let us do that.


Jeremy Au: (16:45)

Yeah. What were the sacrifices that you felt were made, by yourself and your family in order to make these early years happen?


Roger Egan: (16:53)

Yeah. So like I said, I don't consider myself a workaholic. I really am not. I just had to do what I had to do to make it work and it just took that much because we didn't have the money and couldn't hire people, couldn't buy new trucks or get a bigger warehouse, so they had to just let us do whatever it took.

We didn't have kids in the early days and that helped a lot. But, and they pitched in the right, to make it all work. So there was a family effort in the beginning, and yeah, everything was about the startup, you see a lot of your friends, especially ex-pats on these ex-pats packages and going to drinks on Thursday and Friday early on after work. And I just never saw any of that. It was just full-on weekends, and nights. I feel like I was in a black hole for a few years and that was really what it took. I wish I could have, it could have been easier, but it just wasn't.


Jeremy Au: (17:49)

What was that black hole like for you?


Roger Egan: (17:51)

It was extremely intense. I'm not afraid of hard work, obviously, but, the part that was difficult more than anything is, we started to make some traction. We then got a lucky break when the co-founder of Skype invested. My classmate was one of the first employees of Skype.

He tweeted about us. The co-founder of Skype Toivo saw it and said, oh, I'm interested in that. Put us through hell. And then, we've finally got investment. And then we started ramping up the team cause it takes, like I said, quite a few trucks and warehouse workers and so forth to make it all work.

And the stressful part was not the hard work, but the fact that I had, a considerable amount of people on the payroll who if it wasn't like a lot of blue-collar jobs or white collar jobs where if you didn't pay someone, they could probably survive a little bit. These people were living check to check and if I didn't meet payroll they were gonna be hungry or, and their family, it was gonna be really.

So I felt this immense pressure, which really stressed me out. And we were always running out of money. I think, now I can disclose that we are about four times, two weeks away from missing payroll. Because fundraising was so difficult and yeah, that, that stress really got to me again, the grey hair coming from that.


Jeremy Au: (19:09)

Yeah, that's actually an interesting part, right? Cause you said, there were four times that you are two weeks away from missing payroll. I think that's actually a big problem that almost every founder faces, right? Which is like the decision between growth, profitability, and fundraising. So what were some of the lessons that you learned about that, that perhaps are relevant for folks who are, obviously, so many of them are facing it today?


Roger Egan: (19:32)

Yeah, it's you just kind of have to have faith and keep on and just not give up. So one of the, I think biggest lessons from RedMart, wasn't the brilliance of our idea or even our execution. It was that we had this on the wall. Never, never, never give up. It was a quote from Winston Churchill. And that was part of our culture. We just kept on going no matter what, and things just worked out in the end. But it felt like we didn't know how it was gonna work out. We just said, we just keep on delivering the packages. We keep the growth coming. Somehow we're gonna get the money and push through it. So I think that perseverance is really what was our key to success.


Jeremy Au: (20:18)

And what's interesting is that as you scaled out, right, how did the haters or the detractors or the people didn't believe in you, did you notice like a shift in them as it became clearer that was working? I mean, did, for example, the supply, they didn't trust you at all, eventually get to the point where they're like, okay, we're okay with you, taking the goods.


Roger Egan: (20:37)

Yeah, they saw it as a new channel all the consumer package goods manufacturers that were probably younger and sort of where the market is headed and the type of people that they want to lock into buying their products early. So they started going from, yeah, not trusting us to photograph their products to putting an insane amount of marketing dollars behind RedMart and actually paying for our customer acquisition. So we had Unilever and P&G on their Facebook product pages. Connecting to RedMart, which was obviously totally free for us. So it, yeah, we really pushed that with them anytime we met, is that these people when, something to know about online grocery is once people, sort of have a product in their cart, they usually just reorder the same thing.

I don't know if you guys do that at home, but you don't really change the product so once you're locked in, and this is what brands kill for, right? So they were trying everything they could to make sure that when you put the first product in, it was their brand and that marketing. And they have tons of huge marketing budget right, to spend on that. So it shifted and really helped us as we got the growth going.


Jeremy Au: (21:48)

And as you kind of like built it out over time. I'm curious about what, aspects of life got easier for you and what aspects got harder for you because I'm curious about that perspective.


Roger Egan: (22:00)

So once we had enough money to build a really strong executive team and we had some of the best in the business including Colin Bryar, who was technical advisor to Jeff Bezos, he helped build Amazon. He just wrote a book called Working Backwards, which I highly recommend. We applied a lot of those principles at RedMart, he helped us scale up when I was fundraising and honestly, without executives who knew how to scale and build, Vikram and I wouldn't have been able to do it on our own. So, that was a real sigh of relief once we had a great, really great VP of operations and an excellent chief people officer.

A commercial officer marketing, we had some of the best in the world, Chief Product Officer and CTO which definitely made it a lot easier. And then I had to learn, when learning from me as a leader, while we're having these people come on, is I was so used to developing the entire strategy and to sort of telling people like, here's the plan then I realized and through their help and mentorship then, cause I got mentorship from these people who I hired, they're like, this business is too complex for you to now understand everything about it.

You have to just trust and let the team do that. And anyway I did that. And then when you have great people and you have a culture, I just viewed my roles changing to more the culture cultivator. You just get out of their way and let them go and do their job much better than you can.


Jeremy Au: (23:32)

And what's interesting is that eventually, you decided to kind of like make certain decisions about RedMart, right? In terms of the exit and so forth. So walk me through how you went through that and, beyond.


Roger Egan: (23:46)

Yeah, so we actually didn't want to sell we were gonna raise money in a lot of circumstances I won't go into, but we ended up being between two big e-commerce companies. And the end story is we ended up with Alibaba, Lazada. I met Daniel Zhang during Series B, and so already had a relationship with Alibaba. And they were incredibly supportive post-acquisition, both generous to management and a great partner for building and investing in the business. So, you asked what changed after that.


Jeremy Au: (24:18)

Yeah. What changed because similarly, my company startup was acquired and I was a GM there for a year during the lockup period to make sure everything was there integrated. So I'm just kind of curious because it's not an experience that many founders have, right? So I'm just kind of curious you took away from that.


Roger Egan: (24:34)

Yeah. So, as I said, they were extremely supportive and willing to invest a very considerable amount of money in sort of the plus-a-hundred million range. And so it got to be fun again because I have to admit, I was fundraising, 90% of the time and instead I got back to just building and working with the team which is obvious, which I find more fun.

So that was great. And yeah, it was. It was an interesting thing to be sort of integrating with a different culture and company. Also with Lazada, which was different from RedMart and Alibaba. Different from both of us but I learned a lot, cause of their scale in China.

We had access and they were very supportive of getting us there to talk to whoever we wanted in their senior management, getting those people down and giving inspiring speeches all the time. Yeah, so it was a great experience.


Jeremy Au: (25:34)

And after that you decided to take a sabbatical, right? So how did you approach your sabbatical? Because you knew that was done. You had, there's a time coming up you wanted to do the sabbatical. How did you structure your time out?


Roger Egan: (25:45)

After almost three years, we were acquired in November 2016. And sort of, yeah, I finally resigned after working on international expansion for a couple of years in February 2020 and, I sort of felt that for me it was a 12-year grind gonna take a year off, and I knew I wanted to get back to the early-stage building.

It's my happy place but I didn't know what I wanted to do. So the way I had, I'm kind of a geek this way. I had learning goals. I had a lot of things I wanted to learn about heavily on parenting and sort of education for my kids. I had, at the time, I resigned. I have two boys.

One was six and the other is two now eight and four and also wanted to use the time to find the next thing and for me, that meant that it had to be integrated into my life. So like I said, my family, sacrificed quite a bit for me to follow my entrepreneurial dream. I wanted this next venture to be something that involved them and, was part of the family.

Did not want to do physical logistics anymore. It's a very tough business. So I wanted it to be software related. And yeah, I just wanted to have more of a balance and have it be integrated also with my life purpose. I decided one of my purposes is just to be the best father I could and help my kids reach their potential.

So, as I was going through the sabbatical, I just made some important realizations. I think I sort of, really have to admit I outsourced all learning to school. I think a lot of parents do this and sort of said they're gonna take care of it, but in the sabbatical time, we got covid hit.

I was in a three-month lockdown and we were in remote learning. So I really got involved and started questioning things and made it an important realization that there are a lot of skills that I think are very important to the future of life and work that my kids weren't gonna learn in school.

And then I thought, okay, whose job is it to teach them? It's my job. And then I realized I wasn't a very good teacher, and needed help. I haven't mastered a lot of these skills myself, nor do I know how to teach them. So I'm talking about things like critical thinking, creativity, social, and emotional skills, and financial literacy.

Health, fitness, nutrition the list went on and on about things I think are important for life. But, you're not really gonna learn in school or even how to learn, right? Technology is only gonna accelerate and you have to learn and adapt quickly. So I said, okay, I'm gonna read all the books, get a parenting coach.

I go very deep into everything. I tried every app out there, every activity. And as a parent, I just wanted a fun bonding activity. Have this time window to be present with my son that had some type of learning outcome or goal, and I couldn't find it on the market. And that's why we started Nurture.


Jeremy Au: (28:42)

You mentioned that being a father is something that is really important to you. How did becoming a dad change you? Because there's a part where you became a dad, you were an operator, so yet, as you said, outsourced a lot to the school, and yet you said this is something that transformed you, right? And your outlook. So could you walk me through how that transformation happened?


Roger Egan: (29:03)

Yeah. I think well when you become a parent, your life becomes all about your kids and not about yourself. So I think every parent goes through that but for me, I didn't recognize the learning and education role model's responsibility to be honest early enough and it's not too late.

My kids are young but this is when being in that lockdown and seeing what they were learning and how it was going, I just, said, I really need to make this a priority and help my kids become the best they can become. Right? And really reach their potential. So that, that was sort of what made me realize that was being in that lockdown. So, while it wasn't fun, it was a blessing in disguise.


Jeremy Au: (29:49)

What's interesting is that I agree that becoming a dad as well as two daughters has been quite transformational in terms of life, right? I feel like I'm painting with a new colour in my life and yet I'll be honest, I'm not at a point where I'm like, okay, and I'm gonna build a startup, right? For them or in parenting, right?

So, so I think there's a little bit of interest there. Right? You mentioned that's a big driver of your passion, but I guess how did you discover this problem? Or how did you discover that this is something that you really want to build explicitly for?


Roger Egan: (30:19)

Yeah. Well, I'm sort of a lifelong learner and maybe a self-improvement productivity geek myself. So, I recognized, and through my entrepreneurial journey, I recognized that a lot of what has been helpful isn't really what's been taught in school. So my experience helped me realize that.

And I just wanted to help my kids learn these skills that, I had to learn on my own and I didn't learn till much later. I can't even imagine how much more effective and how many mistakes I avoided. If I had learned a lot of these skills earlier in, in life, and when I thought about that, I just wanted this for my kids. I didn't want them to have to go through learning the hard way as much as I had to.


Jeremy Au: (31:05)

I am so curious. I mean, learning the hard way and you've been successful, right? Although a lot of pain has been there in terms of sacrifices and black holes. So what does it mean for them to learn, I guess, the less hard way or easier way from your perspective?


Roger Egan: (31:22)

Yeah, I still think you need to learn by experience and that's what our Nurture program is set up to do. It's learning by playing and making and doing which is called Constructionist Learning Theory. So it's not to avoid, I think part of learning is going beyond your comfort zone, trying new things, and taking risks. So that's not what I mean. I'd still encourage them to do that, but when they get there if they had already built in a growth mindset, really cultivated resilience, built grit and sort of the never-give-up attitude understood more about financial literacy so they could manage their life and all these skills. Help them go through those experiences in a way. So I guess, they're still gonna learn lessons the hard way, but maybe it's just a little easier having those skills earlier in life.


Jeremy Au: (32:12)

This reminds me of a time when John Tan, who was also a serious education tech, angel and builder and I will meet out in Spain and he was like, Jeremy, you and I both love education. We gotta hang out Roger. And then you are like, no, like, too busy. So just to give you some flashback here. So I think John and I would love to ask you that question, which is, what is Constructionist Learning Theory, right? What's wrong with the current learning theory? Right? Math, Science, but what is Constructionist Learning Theory actually?


Roger Egan: (32:43)

Yeah. So as a founder who's new to the education and learning space, I want to caveat by saying I'm not an expert and similar to RedMart where I had zero experience in retailer groceries I'm learning as I go and building a team of experts. And one actually our Chief Product Officer Graham, wrote the book Learning Reimagined, so you can learn a lot from there and while we're on it, there's a book called Lifelong Kindergarten which was written, I forget the author's name, but one of the kinds of creators of Scratch programming language for kids that sort of summarizes the Constructionist Learning Theory very well and how they applied it to their product and how well it's working.

But really it's learning by doing and experiencing things. It's self-directed so that you are learning in the context of something that you're motivated to learn about and you can apply those skills. As needed and on demand rather than just in case in the school, I'll go into Instructions, which is how school works.

But it's self-directed. You learn by doing and the outcome is that you want people to become a lifelong autonomous, self-directed learners. So they learn how to learn. And actually, school is not really needed anymore. Not that teachers can't always help but I'm just saying that you want them to be autonomous learners is the goal as opposed to instructionism, which is how school works, where it is, and please no one get mad at me for this description, but the way I understand it or it seems to me is that there's this authoritative figure who has all the knowledge and they impart the knowledge to the student, which you see as a vessel to fill up with a lot of material that I view as just in case learning not in the context of something that they're interested in or self-directed. And then they regurgitate what they learn on a test. That's how they measure learning. In my opinion, that's not the best measure of learning nor does it really determine test scores determine how successful someone's going to be or what they're capable of in life and so that's where I see the school system falling down.

It was designed a long time ago and hasn't changed in over 50 years. And I think that it's a new way is needed for the future of life and work. And I think Constructionists Learning Theory is the best that I've seen and what we apply at Nurture.


Jeremy Au: (35:11)

John and I were having that discussion, right? And we're talking about AI and generative AI and I think you recently posted about how schools are banning generative AI from school and are, saying that it's not gonna work and we're not teaching our kids to live or be empowered or to use AI, for example.

And obviously, I think a lot of folks are talking about that, right? I mean, the truth is, I always remember that I used to hang out with a bunch of people and then this person was like, oh, this person doesn't use a calendar. And I was like, an online calendar. And I was like, yeah, because she doesn't have enough to fill it up with.

But at some point, she's definitely using an online calendar because we all need an external second brain. Right. So I'm just kind of curious from your perspective is, as we see it as generative AI, as the tool goes up, I'm kind of curious like, I mean obviously there's a bunch of theory about how you're doing it, but how are you equipping or training or empowering your kids? Like, are you like screen-free time? Are you like, yes, screen time? Like, I'm just kind of curious how you are thinking and applying that for your own family.


Roger Egan: (36:11)

Yeah. So, first of all, on the screen time, I think there's a growing awareness that there are two different types of screen time which broadly can be categorized as active and passive and I, at Nurture we're kind of building the action where it's interactive, you're using your brain and not just mindless consumption of content.

So I am all for learning and screen time. And don't limit that if it's the right type of screen time. So, learning how to play chess is a game that my son uses and he has a lot of great apps that the school even uses Epic reading DragonBox Numbers for math.

There are a lot of them that I watched with DragonBox Numbers, for example, him not knowing much about arithmetic to go, doing three-digit arithmetic both addition and subtraction on his own without any words or teaching. It was just playing the game and he was able to do it. So I think gamifying education is something that works and I believe in and so I don't want to limit that screen time, I think so you asked another question about screen time.


Jeremy Au: (37:18)

Yeah. How are you? Do you feel like how, I mean, how are you training your kids? Because as a founder, I mean, you think about AI, you think about technology?


Roger Egan: (37:26)

Oh, AI.


Jeremy Au: (37:26)

About the next 10 years out, like, I'm just curious. Are you, I don't, talking to your kids about AI? Are you letting them play with it? I'm so curious.


Roger Egan: (37:35)

Yeah. I mean this is what I spoke about as technological change is only going to accelerate. Right? And we're seeing a huge acceleration with AI. I think it's kind of even taking tech people by surprise, how fast it's moving now and this is a perfect example of how uniquely human skills are going to be more valuable in the future.

And being able to learn and adapt is gonna be much more important. So for me, I wouldn't view it. There, there is learning that you have to do alone. So when schools ban this, I get it if it means they're not applying skills to, learning math and doing things on their own and just letting the AI do it that's something that I agree they shouldn't allow.

But I would more teach them how to use this as a tool, how to ask it the right questions, how to learn from it, and apply it to kind of you mentioned Second Brain actually took Tiago Forte's class in building a second brain, yeah. So I think it can be part of your second brain and you should learn how to leverage this tool rather than just, say, oh, it's banned. We don't use this. It's the same thing as banning video games. I mean, they're not all created equal. Some can be extremely helpful learning tools. And some can just be mindless sort of first-person shooter games where it's not teaching them anything.


Jeremy Au: (38:58)

And on that note, could you share with us a time that you personally have been brave?


Roger Egan: (39:04)

Yeah, I'd say generally in life, taking risks has always paid off for me. So that was going to Spain, that was starting various companies even when not successful I learned a lot. So I've always found that the downside is much outweighed by the upside potential. I'd say the bravest one, one example of brave with RedMart was early on, thought we were going to outsource all delivery to a third-party logistics company.

As I mentioned it's super capital-intensive to buy trucks and operate them. So we partnered with a few in Singapore. They kept on delivering late and ruining the customer experience, and we are just, we need to just bring this in house and start delivering ourselves. So we started doing it, with one van ourselves, but then we realized that this was a pretty big shift in the business plan because it would add a lot more capital intensity and fundraising needed to make this work.

But we just, and we didn't have the money to do that when we made the decision. But we kind of had to take a leap of faith and say, if we do this, we're gonna deliver on it. All customers carried about care about with online groceries, did they get everything they wanted? Is it fresh and was it delivered on time? And if we miss on any of those we're not gonna get adoption. So we took a leap of faith without the money and just said we have to do this because that will lead to more adoption and growth. And then we'll get the money and obviously pay off. And then we realize, wow, we can come up with a lot more efficiencies by the routing algorithm and building all the technology that kind of enhanced the delivery routes that we wouldn't have been able to do if we just outsourced it.


Jeremy Au: (40:48)

Wow. Thank you for sharing. So on that note, how did you actually end up making the decision? I mean, was it because of the customer experience? Like, cause it must have been a big debate internally, right, to make that happen. So what in the end kind of like convince you to make that call?


Roger Egan: (41:06)

I'd say another thing that we had early on at RedMart was customer obsession. We had a North star, where one of them was on-time delivery, quality of that delivery and making sure everything was in it. That's all that really mattered for online grocery and we thought if we can't control the experience of delivering that experience, we're not gonna be successful. We had to own the whole stack and so once it became clear that was needed to control a very important part of the value proposition, it was a no-brainer we just had to do it no matter what.


Jeremy Au: (41:45)

Thanks for sharing. So I'd like to kind of like summarize the three big themes I got from this. The first, of course, is really this untold origin story about RedMart. I loved what you shared about what you learned from your previous startups and what you wanted to take away, how you were so different from everybody else to already be chasing this idea two months into the INSEAD MBA and how you met your cofounder via your wives. and all these different aspects, right? About how your first partner didn't trust you and you had to take photos of everything to, almost missing payroll four times. These are some really personal stories that resonate with me because, there are so many moments that, are so similar, right, in different startups. So I thought it was really interesting to hear that from your perspective as a founder and also with both the eye of looking into, but also looking back on that experience. The second big theme that I got was really about sacrifices and, the black hole.

Really appreciate you sharing about how much of a grind it was in the early days to just do the operations yourself, to have the dog food in your apartment and your wife has to suffer from that. And also like, actually the long hours, right? You're working to 2.00 AM or 3:00 AM every day and what it was like to see that versus, see what other people were doing or had their careers or their ex-pat or their pay packages? I thought it was interesting to see that contrast as well, too, to have that, feeling right, of not just sacrifices, but also ending the black hole.

And I thought it was just a really kind, interesting part to hear about your detractors and people who didn't believe and how you had to slowly convince people, for example, the supplier to eventually become one of your biggest advocates. Lastly, I love so much how becoming a dad has inspired you to build this Nurture the startup for constructionist learning for children. I think that you've kind of like hit the nail on the head, which is that I think the current school systems are not really there about building for what the needs are today, let alone what the needs are for the future in terms of like, AI or, technology and change, right?

Which is, like, already mind-blowing for adults, let alone children. Right. So I think there's a lot that goes there and I'm so inspired by I think your sharing, choosing to build three different companies but all based on, as you said, customer assumption and never giving up. So thank you so much for sharing.


Roger Egan: (44:01)

Thanks, Jeremy.